Escape to Sunshine Gulch

Several years ago, our neighbors Dave and B.J. sold their house and traded it for 40 undeveloped acres separated from the Bay Area proper by a mountain range or two. I rarely see them, but this week Charybdis and Scylla was on break, and I wanted a break away from the urban hustle and bustle, even just for a day.

The last time we were there, both Neil and Kelly loved it: imagine nothing but nature, and little to do except maybe watch a video or pet some dogs. Now Neil’s more of a computer guy, and, well, rural internet connections don’t compare to urban DSL. His high-tech moment of the day was testing out this solar hat, as he did on our short midday hike:

neil-and-kelly-with-hats

Two small solar panels on either side got a fan going whenever it was in sunlight. It really did work, creating a little cold breeze above your head on a cold day, but Neil was more focused on its whirring noise and whether the blades could injure. Neil also wasn’t very happy that the wildlife we were going out to look for might include rattlesnakes as well as rabbits.

The big surprise was Dave, and how he had come into his own in his own homestead in a remote area I think of now as Sunshine Gulch. In our semi-urban neighborhood, he’d always been too modest and reserved to come out to neighborhood barbecues, but if any one needed help, he’d be the first person on the scene. Out here, nearly a mile away from any neighbor, he and his wife knew everyone in the entire area, even if getting to their place required a 4-wheel drive with enough oomph to scurry up a gravelly mountain and cross small rivers. A small restaurant near the junction of three counties functions as the community center and post office. The folks who farm or grow produce share their extras with those they know well, and Dave and BJ can it, smoke or cure it and put it away to consume at leisure.

Most of all, Dave had become interested and involved in conservation, which I wouldn’t have imagined about him before. But in context, it made sense. He’d always loved to go out camping in the large public park lands, and now he is actually conserving rural land himself–by having bought it for himself and his family to protect. Now he’s trying to make others aware of the importance of conserving the natural resources in any one particular area, and taking advantage of the native environment. His ideas were similar to those my environmentalist-minded homeschoolers have mentioned, such as having maximum insulation on a house to minimize heating and cooling costs; implementing solar power in sunny regions, like Dave’s region of California; and planting native and drought-resistant plants instead of a lawn with heavy watering requirements.

I’d taken their daughter Liz (who doesn’t drive) over to visit them on Tuesday, and when I went back on Saturday to pick her up, I asked Dave for a recommendation for a solar-powered shed light. He gave me a whole catalog of solar-powered devices: it’s impressive how many devices can be run with solar power (or other alternative power sources) from water pumps to air conditioners. Unfortunately, they’re also all very expensive, but when you’re miles away from the electrical power grid, or the California ISO has to ration power, solar’s more reliable.

That said, it’s a suprisingly long drive to get there, even though their home is close as far as the crow flies. To get to their homestead involves lots of switchbacks over at least two mountains, plus unpaved road, unlocking a gate and then driving in for a distance through a gravelled dirt road. Luckily, my new car can handle it better than my previous one, which almost slid off the hill last time. Both Neil and Kelly suffered from carsickness, and out of respect for Neil, at least once I took the long (but pretty) way home. It was straighter, but it was more than twice the milage. On the other hand, Kelly loved the doggies, and they (as well as the low-key homey atmosphere) had her not missing the company of zillions of other girls any more.

So we’ll probably return to Sunshire Gulch some time, even if Neil will have to make do with less-than-lightning-speed internet.

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